For long stretches of screen time, The Hard Ride seems like the gentlest biker flick ever made, because leading man Robert Fuller and leading lady Sherry Bain spend a whole lot of the movie either riding peacefully through such picturesque locations as Yosemite National Park or enjoying romantic idylls at scenic roadside encampments. Furthermore, the movie’s overarching narrative is inherently contemplative, because Fuller plays a Vietnam vet who honors a fallen comrade’s last wishes by taking care of the dead soldier’s motorcycle, nicknamed “Baby,” and by gathering the man’s friends for a funeral ceremony. The Hard Ride occupies a peculiar space between the normal excesses of biker flicks and the more ruminative qualities of character-driven drama. That said, The Hard Ride is amateurish on many levels, so perhaps it’s best to think of the picture as a noble but unsuccessful attempt to invest an exploitation movie with something extra.
Fuller, a veteran TV star who preens and scowls through scenes in the mode of a soap-opera actor, plays Phil, a recently discharged Marine. Returning to the West Coast home region of his late pal, Terry, Phil is bequeathed “Baby” and instructed to arrange Terry’s funeral. Phil connects with Terry’s girlfriend, Sheryl (Sherry Bain), and they begin a long quest to find a biker named Big Red (Tony Russel), because Terry requested Big Red’s presence at the funeral. Predictably, Phil and Sheryl get romantically involved, and hassles ensue with Big Red’s gang and other hog-riding outfits, as well as troublemaking teenagers.
Written and directed by Burt Topper, who enjoyed a long career in schlock cinema, The Hard Ride opens and closes like an art film, with enigmatic shots cut quickly while Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers) sings a funked-up version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” on the soundtrack. In between these vivid scenes, The Hard Ride treads water. Although the spunky Bain boasts a womanly appeal that’s a refreshing change of pace from the bimbo types normally hired to decorate biker flicks, Fuller is such a mannequin that the movie never generates emotional heat. Worse, The Hard Ride wobbles indecisively between genre-movie pulp and straight-drama seriousness. (It’s a relief whenever the picture settles into colorful biker-flick rhythms, as when Big Red riffs thusly: “If we start tangling asses, there’s gonna be a lotta heads and machines busted.”) Ultimately, The Hard Ride is admirable and disappointing at the same time—in trying to do something more, the picture ends up doing something less.
The Hard Ride: FUNKY